Jirí Kylián was born in Prague in 1947, the son of a banker and a dancer. He began studying dance at the age of nine and at the age of fifteen he entered the Conservatory in the Czech capital, where, in addition to his classical lessons (given by Zora Semberová), he took modern dance (the Graham technique) as well as folk dancing. He also studied the piano. In 1967, he received a grant from the British Council and went to the Royal Ballet School in London. The choreographer John Cranko urged him to join his company in Stuttgart some day. In the summer of 1968, Kylián left Prague when the Soviet tanks rolled in and he found fitting refuge in Germany at the Stuttgart Ballet. Once there, he quickly became a soloist and made his first forays into choreographing for the Noverre Society Matinées (it was a career path similar to John Neumeier who also had been noticed by Cranko a few years earlier). A guest choreographer at the Nederlands Dans Theater in The Haig in 1973, he joined the team of the artistic director (with Hans Knill), ultimately becoming the NDT’s the director in 1978. He was just 28 years old. His incredible aptitude for choreography and his talents as an artist generated the enthusiasm and loyalty of the NDT’s members and made the company a unique enterprise in terms of its productions and its triple-strand structure (NDT1 –the principal troupe, NDT2 – the junior troupe, NDT3, the senior group). Even though Jirí Kylián chose to step down as general director of the NDT in June 1999, he still remains the Company’s choreographer and artistic advisor. He has created some sixty choreographic works—works that are charmingly engaging, musical, sometimes tinged with a scathing humour and often interspersed with strange images which skirt the borders of dream and reality, but always infused with a gravity which bears witness to his unceasing ability to question our era. Jirí Kylián has received the Carina Ari Medal in Stockholm, the West End Theatres Award in London, the Sonia Gaskell Prize in Amsterdam, the Andersen Prize for Choreography in Copenhagen, the International Grand Prize for video-dance in Nîmes (1988), the coveted Prix Benois de la Danse on two occasions (first in Moscow in 1993, and then in Berlin in 1999 for One of a Kind), and the Critics’ Prize at the Edinburgh Festival in 1996 and 1997. In 1995, he was made an Officer of the Royal Order of Orange-Nassau. He is also an Officier des Arts et Lettres (courtesy of the French Ministry of Culture), and a Doctor Honoris Causa of the Juilliard School in New York.
In February 2000, the choreographer and the company as a whole received the Laurence Olivier Award for their “exceptional service”. The production Arcimboldo 2000 also earned The Hague’s City Prize. At the Paris Opera, Kylian created two works for the company: Doux mensonges (1999) and Il faut qu’une porte… (2004). Several of his other works have also entered the Paris Opera Ballet’s repertoire: Bella Figura, Kaguyahime, Nuages, Sinfonietta, Stepping Stones, Symphony of Psalms, Tantz-Schul and Tar and Feathers.